Effective Political Action:
Recovering Democracy's True Gift

By Patricia Dines
Sonoma County Peace Press, Dec./Jan. 1995/6, p. 3. (Lead article in the "Participatory Government" issue.)

(c) Patricia Dines, 1995. All rights reserved.
To many of us, our government is an external thing, doing actions we either like or don't like, but separate. Therefore, if we feel unable to influence it, we can feel it's OK to stop participating in it and just focus on our personal lives.

Except -- our government isn't really separate from our personal lives, any more than our community is. Government decisions can dramatically impact our personal goals -- threatening our health, environment, children's educations -- changing the very fabric of our society.

But, given how overgrown our government's garden is, it's understandable that we get discouraged -- and wonder how we can act more effectively in that domain.


I think one of the key ways to increase our effectiveness in working with government is to change our way of thinking about what government is.

I believe that seeing government as external fundamentally disempowers us, by denying our true power in this democracy. By not seeing the original purpose of our government, and how our own actions - and inactions -- effect government's actions, we're left powerless and without a place to resolve community issues, to have our views heard and included.

I'd like to suggest that a more powerful way to see government is not as it or them -- but as us. As a place we, the community, created to discuss and resolve community issues -- so we could join together to create the future we want. It is, truly, our town meeting -- if we recreate it in that image. Just like people stranded on a deserted island would soon invent a structure to discuss shared needs and coordinate group actions.

Viewing government this way, we see that the ultimate power in a democracy is indeed the voice of the people. If you've ever seen public outrage change government's direction (like when the FDA threatened dietary supplements) then you've seen our potential power. What if we did that all the time? What if our government employees knew they were always being watched? What if we remembered government as our place for resolving community issues -- and saw that if we don't participate in resolving them, they'll be resolved by those who do participate (like the 30% who voted the current Republican Congress in)?

I think this viewpoint would move us significantly toward reclaiming our collective power in the U.S. For us to appreciate the true power of the democratic ideal, already written into the law of our land -- and then insist that government act to fulfill it (not just say it in campaigns). And for us to act ourselves to fulfill it -- to see not just our rights as citizens, but also our responsibilities -- the need to regularly participate to keep our power from being subverted.

Then we might see that the few have indeed been imprisoning the many. The birdcage door's really open, if we'll just walk through and reclaim our authority in our own communal lives. If we'll only act -- all of us, and often.


The other key answer I see for long-term success in our political interactions (not just temporary wins and losses) is to recover the art of democratic debate. After deciding to act, many move straight from no talk to war talk - venting long-built rage and trying to shoot down and power over all other opinions, like a talk show shouting match. And, like all wars and shouting matches, it might feel good at the time, but few long-term positive results are achieved.

What I see works better is to cultivate the skills of what I call nonwarlike conversation -- where the goal isn't annihilation of others, but a just and inclusive peace. Where we express our opinions, visions, goals, values, etc. clearly and constructively -- then listen to others', with open hearts and minds -- listening below the rhetoric and defenses to the true human needs and feelings underneath. Listening doesn't mean we give in or stop holding others accountable -- just that we look first for agreement, not disagreement; look to see the higher self, the truer heart, the deeper gift seeking to be given. Listening like we like to be listened to -- with respect, and the intention to honor all honest viewpoints, to find a way to work together.

Then, when we do speak out, we can include different viewpoints and offer a higher solution, a true vision --positioning ourselves as the reasonable ones, the perceptive constructive peacemakers.

I won't pretend these two shifts are easy -- I'm still developing my skills at them -- but I think pursuing them can offer us a very profound gift -- a truly participatory democracy, where we create a future we're all proud of, and where all souls are included and get to blossom in the light. All of us.


(c) Patricia Dines, 1995. All rights reserved.

This entire website is (c) Patricia Dines, 1998-2007. All rights reserved.
Page last updated 04/05/07